A Simple Backup Strategy

I am a strong believer that most non-IT people don’t take seriously the need to have a reliable method of backup for their important data.  Just ask yourself: What happens when you can no longer access the data on your computer? It doesn’t matter what happens – you could or lose your laptop or have it stolen, or the hard drive in your computer could fail.  Any way you look at it, your data is toast.  What, then, would you do to recover it?  It’s always a good time to think about backups, and to help, I’ll show you what I do.

I actually use two backup strategies: Image-based backups (on-site), and online backups (off-site) – and everything is completely automated.

Image Backups

Image-based backups take a snapshot of your entire system – when a restore is needed, you can easily restore the entire system – operating system, applications, settings, and documents – with just a few clicks. This is incredibly convenient because it’s a huge time saver – I can restore an image of my entire laptop in around an hour, and that’s from a blank hard drive to a fully restored, fully working system.  The disadvantage of this kind of solution is that the image is stored on-site (portable hard drive, network-attached storage, etc), so it isn’t immune to natural disasters, theft, or fire.

Online Backups

I use an online backup solution to back up everything in my “Documents” folder.  Online backups are useful because they are off-site, and if you use a reputable service, your files will probably be stored in a secure datacenter that is well-protected against fire, flood, and other natural disasters. If a tornado hits your house and destroys everything, your files will still be intact.

Automation

Whichever combination of backup strategies you choose, it’s a good idea to fully automate everything. Look for backup applications that include a scheduler (most of them do) – this is not something you want to have to remember – if you’re anything like me, you’ll forget.  It’s also a good idea to look for a backup solution that runs as a service – you wouldn’t want to miss backups just because you’re not logged into your system.

The Software I Use

Quick note: I’m not necessarily endorsing any of this software.  This happens to be the software that I currently use and am happy with.  Your mileage may vary.

I use Acronis TrueImage Home 2009 for image-based backups.  It allows you to schedule backups, with a plethora of options, and will even send an e-mail status alert when it’s complete (or if an error occurs).  It sells for about $50.

For my online backups, I use JungleDisk Desktop to upload my files to Amazon’s S3 service.  The JungleDisk software costs $20, and with Amazon S3, you pay only for what you use (and for me, it ends up being very inexpensive – my first month’s bill was $0.09).  Soon, I plan on switching to Mosso’s Cloud Files service.  It’s the same idea as Amazon, but it’s done by Rackspace.

What Now?

You’ve planned out your backup strategy. You acquired the software you’re going to use. Installed and configured it. The wheels are turning, copies of your files are being safely stowed away.  What now?  Hopefully nothing!  But you know that won’t be the case.

Don’t forget about recovery! It’s just as important to have a good recovery strategy.  Read the documentation on the software that you choose.  In my case, Acronis TrueImage can create a recovery CD that can boot your computer.  It boots right into the TrueImage software and recovery is just a few clicks away.  With JungleDisk, all I would need to do is reinstall the JungleDisk software and I can restore my files from there.

You can look at it any way you want, but chances are that you will lose data that is important to you at some point in your life. Backup is something that should be taken seriously because it can help you avoid major headaches later on.  And don’t forget to occasionally re-evaluate your strategy – new software and technology that can make your life easier emerges constantly.

With a well thought-out backup solution, you can always be confident that your data is safe.